Saturday, November 27, 2010

The colour red

This Christmas, Santa is giving me the colour red.

Ever since childhood I've enjoyed wearing this bright colour, but recently I've become aware of its connotations. Of course, red always had connotations. When I was a young child, words and phrases like "Red menace" and "Red China", and "Reds under the beds", were commonly used, but I was oblivious to what was meant, and certainly wasn't making a political statement when I wore my red T-shirt.

Currently, red is associated with the political right in the United States. I believe this association began during election coverage some years ago, when a TV network assigned the colour red to designate the states where the Republicans won, and blue for states where the Democrats won.

This assignment of colours was jarring to me at first, because here in Canada, blue has been the Conservative Party's colour for many years, and red, the colour of the Liberal. I realized that this association has become deeply ingrained one Friday night when my husband and I were invited by some senior friends to have dinner with them at their retirement residence. On entering the main door, I was startled to see that most of the older adults in the main foyer were wearing red. What was the occasion? A Liberal Party fundraiser? Somehow I doubted it, since the M.P. and M.P.P. who serve that part of the city are both Conservatives.

It wasn't Valentine's Day or Canada Day either. Nor had Christmas taken me by surprise. The seniors in the residence made it a practice to wear red on Fridays to "support our troops." And there I was in my frequently-worn black T-shirt and black slacks. I murmured to my husband that I looked out of place in my Johnny Cash outfit.

Later, thinking about the evening, I recalled some of the words to Johnny Cash's song "The Man in Black". One line is, "I wear the black in mourning for the lives that could have been," and although I wore black just by chance that evening, I fit right in, for, like all Canadians, I support our troops and grieve for those who have died or have been injured, and hope that the time will come when our costly mission in Afghanistan will end.

The festive season brings with it much symbolism. Santa Claus, for instance, comes from the story of St. Nicholas, who is legendary for his generosity to the poor, and who is usually depicted in the robes of a bishop - red. So during this season I can feel good about wearing red - in honour of Santa.

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